Creative Leadership

When Loyalty Kills

Pretty much anything – even good things – used badly or to the extreme can damage or destroy your organization or career.  One of those top issues is misguided loyalty – or to be honest, even loyalty – period.  Loyalty is a wonderful trait, and most leaders want their team to be loyal. But be careful not to confuse “loyalty” for “competence.”  After all, how successful can you be when you have a loyal but incompetent team?

I know one large media organization who’s CEO put his longtime and very loyal assistant in charge of their TV studio.  She was a good person.  She was loyal.  But she knew absolutely nothing about television.  As a result, the entire division started a nosedive and it still hasn’t recovered.

A large church on the West Coast has a marketing director who I estimate costs them more than $100,000 a year through incompetence in the form of missed deadlines, poor work, selecting bad vendors, hiring the wrong team, and more.  But since she’s a loyal second generation church employee, there’s little chance she’ll ever be fired.  Which means the church will continue losing vast amounts of money and being more and more ineffective.

I hope all my team members are loyal, but you must always understand the balance of loyalty and expertise, so you can position your organization for ultimate success.

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  1. How about an incompetent leader and a loyal staff? Loyal staff members can make excuses for the incompetence of their leader because the leader is either a family member (and they’re benefitting in some way), or because the staff member(s) are in denial; they won’t face the truth of the matters at hand. Chalk that up to naïve thinking.  Supporting a leader for the sake of loyalty, not their expertise, does bring down an organization over time.  You’re right Phil, misguided loyalty kills.

  2. And, an employer should not take for granted the loyalty of competent employees. I’ve seen good employees help the employer to succeed and become very wealthy, only to be rewarded with broken promises and a “what are you going to do about it?” attitude from the (now former) boss. 

    Such punished loyalty is not only a morale killer, it has been a stumbling block and faith killer to some.

  3. I agree loyalty and competence should not be confused, but when one is faced with the recognition that an employee is loyal but is lacking in skills a choice needs to be made. Depending on the situation it may be better to train the employee to give them the skills necessary making them more valuable than to discard them. The next competent person may not be loyal at all. You can train someone with most skills. You cannot train them to be loyal to you. (I say that knowing there is a limit to everything.)

    1. Great point. Discarding someone who is loyal is an unwise move. Discipline and train as needed, and then if they are unwilling to grow let them go. What point is hiring someone who could leave the first chance they get, making things worse in the big picture?

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